Airlines prepare for an expected record number of summer passengers

If you plan to fly on vacation this summer, prepare for unprecedented crowds at the airport.

A record 246.1 million passengers are expected to fly during the season, a 3.7 percent increase over a record set last year, according to Airlines for America, a trade group for the nation’s biggest airlines.

The Transportation Security Administration also predicts a record number of air travelers at airport screening lines from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. The TSA expects to screen an average of 2.6 million passengers per day this summer, up from an average of 2 million passengers throughout the year.

Both the airlines and the TSA say they are prepared for the surge in air travelers, which the trade association has accurately predicted before.

The TSA said it has increased staffing by more than 600 screening officers since the start of the year and expects to add an additional 1,000 officers before the peak of the summer travel season.

The airline trade group says the country’s air carriers plan to add 116,000 seats per day to serve the spike in demand for air travel — a surge that industry experts attribute to a strong economy, low unemployment and relatively inexpensive fares.

“As the economy grows along with household net worth, passengers are taking advantage of persistently low airfares for their summer travel plans,” said John Heimlich, chief economist for Airlines for America.

The average annual domestic airfare dropped in 2017 for the third straight year to $348, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

It is unclear if fares will continue to fall. The trade group reported that airline expenses, including wages and fuel costs, rose faster than revenues in the first three months of 2018, cutting into profit margins.

But the group noted that competition remains strong, especially from ultra low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier airlines.

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